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Labour law & black eyes

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A recent blog of mine ­Rights claims in court­ generated an excellent comment and I wanted to highlight this comment and all its intellect.  I appreciate that I was too quick and too vague in saying that being a women is irrelevant in the case of the South African sex-worker who filed a claim against a brothel owner for unlawful termination.  Being a woman is relevant.  Particularly because, as the commenter notes:  “The judge chose to interpret the law in a way that entrenched discrimination against a particular sex and class­ female and sex worker.”  I was writing from the perspective of a gender-neutral world, which is not reality. Even purchasing beer in Zimbabwe can be gendered.  On many occasions, I’ve had men and women tell me it’s inappropriate for a woman to make such a purchase.  I wouldn’t continue to use the phrase “that she’s a woman is irrelevant” in reference to the South African sex worker (or any female sex worker).  But I stand by my argument that as a labour issue, the rights claim does not necessarily need to be asserted exclusively based on sex.  I would hope that this South African sex-workers case becomes an inspiring element in advocacy around decriminalizing sex work.  Sex work exists because there’s a large market for it; there has been since the dawn of time.  Women are the predominant sellers, but men sell sex too. In either case, as long as people are willing to buy, I believe that a sex worker is entitled to the same rights and protections afforded to any other person engaged in a form of employment.

Additionally, the conclusion of the comment importantly points to the difficulties around balancing, “problematic representation of women as poor powerless victims” with “nothing is as powerful a tool for inspiring women who are going through similar challenges as the story of one of their own, who has fought against the odds and won.”   A recent article in the Mail & Guardian reminded me of how difficult this balance is.  The author describes how her dog head-butted her at the veterinarians office resulting in her getting a black eye.  Once she went on with her life, it became apparent that nearly everyone she encountered had a difficult time looking her in the (black) eye.  There appeared to be uneasiness and an assumption that the black eye was the result of abuse by a man.  She was rendered a victim without the facts being known.  I agree with the author and also feel for how women who have been abused, “not only have to endure the physical and emotional pain of that violence, but must then suffer another round of beating and shrinkage when they venture into society.”  And yes, very much so, the many courageous women who are able to heal from experiences of violence are powerful examples of fighting the odds and winning.

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